By M. Dana Baldwin

Strategic Planning Expert

Strategic Planning Expert

When you meet with your customers and prospects, you want to be perceived as a professional in your field.  What does it take to garner this respect? Broadly speaking, you need to be trusted for your knowledge, ethics and quality performance.

One of the first things you should be sure of is that you actually know as much as possible about whatever it is you are selling or representing.  Know your product or service inside out, upside down and front to back.  Be able to clearly describe not only the product or service itself, but especially what the application of that product or service will do for the customer.  The customer most often is seeking to solve some kind of problem.  If the customer actually believes your product or service will deliver the benefits you say it will, you have a higher likelihood of making the sale.  In order to have the customer believe you, you must earn his/her trust.  Knowledge is one of the keys to earning that trust.

Another key area is truly listening to the customer.  Many sales people believe they have to demonstrate how much they know to the customer, and they attempt to do this by talking entirely too much.  A much better approach is to listen to the customer’s perception of the problem, then responding with a simple explanation — talking in terms that show you know what the needs of the customer are and that you can help solve the problem for the customer. Creative questions are important to not only establish trust, but to gather information about the problem, what may have been tried already, and what the customer thinks might be solutions.

Don’t talk down your competition!  In one instance taken from my personal experience, our company, a relatively small machinery manufacturer, was going head-to-head with one of the best machinery manufacturers in the country for a large machine installation.  Our competitor met the prospect the day before we did, and the vast majority of their presentation was about how bad our design was and how it would not do what the customer wanted.  The next day, we met with the prospect, and we talked only about our own design and its performance, reliability, accuracy and effectiveness.  We got the order.  The other company shot itself in the foot, and within a year was out of that particular segment of the machinery business.

Along with not talking down your competition, drop the hard sell.  Customers don’t want to be sold, they want to make their own decision about whether to buy or not.  The last thing you should want is to make a sale with the wrong product or service, and to then suffer the loss of reputation and integrity fundamental to trust.

Speaking of integrity: you should always strive to live up to your word.  Example: We sold a machine to a customer which performed very well for them.  About five years after they received the machine, the main table cracked, and upon inspection, it was obvious that the casting had been made with an inclusion which led directly to the crack occurring.  Even though the machine was out of warranty by four years, we replaced the table and installed the new one at no charge to the customer, because, in our minds, it was the right thing to do.

Every once in a while you simply can’t make the situation come out as promised.  What should you do?  You need to come clean, and do your best to make the situation as right as possible for your customer.  Good communication and openness will allow you to keep your reputation in nearly all circumstances.  In the end, being honest with your prospects and customers will almost always pay off for both of you.

Following these principles, you should be able to establish good, professional and trusted relationships with most prospects and customers, and, in the end, this should lead to better sales and better associations with those we respect.

If you would be interested in reading more on interacting with customers please click here to read “Why Do Your Customers Buy from Your Company?

M. Dana Baldwin is a Senior Consultant with Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. and can be reached at

© Copyright 2013 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI — Reprint permission granted with full attribution.

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